Or are you the bhabi of the over-the- top perfect make up and swiftly sliding eyes and rapid thought (shown thrice with sound effects for those who came in late)
The characters in these serials may be exaggerated, no doubt, but then they are meant to be. They are fighting high noise levels, visiting relatives, the pressure cooker and the sounds of dinner being served. On screen they are battling grainy pictures, the news tracker at the bottom of the screen, the channel logo and the local advertisements leaving them with the middle third of the screen to achieve impact and the all important TRPs.
These are caricatures of people you see around you. Were they meant to be caricatures? Is this an elaborate play by a group with a very fine sense of irony?Is the joke really on us, for watching and funding such larger-than-life characters? Or are we laughing at ourselves, for allowing avatars of ourselves to take us to places where we would normally not go. Or are we indulging in a form of vouyerism or escapism,or a bit of both?
What we cannot deny is that there is a degree of emotional connect. Over the past decade I have seen subtle but definite changes in weddings and in everyday style. We have identified with the characters enough to invest in jewellery and clothes just like them. They are role models in style and fashion and we have followed them in other ways too.
Do we reflect on the ways we have changed? How many families had a bahu actually knock over a lota of rice on entering the house or step in a thaal of aalta a generation ago? Since when did the smashing of a photo frame become inauspicious? Which family has a puja every week (or so) that is attended by all members of the family regardless of business or work committments? And who are these amazing women who calmly walk into businesses and run them brilliantly while the male counterpart is presumed dead or has another bout of amnesia. And then, equally comfortably go back to serving garam garam parathas for the rest of their lives.
Much has changed in these characters and in us. Thanks to the saaasbahu sagas, we share a national identity that Jawaharlal Nehru could not create. Unity in diversity was a slogan at school, but now all of us know how Tulsi would react and what Parvati would say.These women were towers of strength in increasingly unlikely dramas. And in contrast, they fostered more retrogade role models than seen for a long time. In a few short years they may have undone years or even generations of hard work by professional women who have juggled their various roles.
Yet, they also tackled very serious issues, if with a light touch. There is method in this madness. Behind the large bindis,glittering sarees and dripping sindoor lay serious intent. These were only to allay fears of the orthodox. And to allow identification. There were messages of strength and of rebellion cloaked in tradition. Vital issues were discussed and dialogue was fostered in the nation. Unpretentious non-academic debate. The status of the bahu in her new house,the positioning and value of a dark skinned girl, marital rape, mental instability in the family, complex inter-relationships and the aspirations of the daughter were just some of the issues tackled.
Sadly, that era is over. The debate has degenerated and apart from a few such as balika vadhu, there is no pretence of a social message at all. I wait for the next phase in its evolution.